LAURINBURG — The Scotland County Partnership for Children and Families reported at its annual meeting on Monday that for the second of its 15 years in operation, the partnership has met all state standards for child care.
The partnership takes a three-pronged approach to ensuring the welfare of children aged from infancy to five years, addressing family support, child care, and health care. In 2012-2013, the partnership received $405,530 in Smart Start grants and directed $227,336 to child care subsidies for working parents.
The county again last year met all state standards for child care, including average star rating for child care centers, services for children with special needs, and salaries for teachers in child care facilities, exceeding seven of those standards.
“Research shows that children who participate in high-quality child care programs are significantly better in language, group awareness and knowledge, and math and counting skills than children that attend low-quality child care centers,” said Bennie Cox, the partnership’s director of operations.
In the last fiscal year, 29 preteen and teen mothers received assistance with child care, enabling them to stay in school, through the Leadership and Education for Adolescent Parents program. After giving birth to her daughter the summer before her senior year of high school, Laura Tanner recently graduated from UNC Pembroke with a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice.
“When I went back to high school, LEAP started right then helping me pay for daycare so I could continue to go to school and graduate high school a semester early,” she said.
The partnership also provides education and support for new parents, like Sara McLucus, a single mother with twin sons born prematurely.
“I was told that Jacob would never walk,” McLucus said. “He was deaf the first year of his life and missed out on the first year of language. I didn’t hear him call me mama until he was around 19 months old. Smart Start has helped me get Jacob and Ethan to the point where they are ‘normal’ children. They have been able to interact with their peers and are making great strides. … They have helped me develop a plan and a goal to get them where they need to be.”
By assisting child care workers to continue their education, the partnership both directly and indirectly helps child care centers through the process of increasing their state rating on a scale of one to five stars.
“They want you to go back to school but stay in the same center so that the children have that peace of mind that you will be there, and that helps with consistency in the child’s life,” said Roxanne McKeithan, a lead teacher at God’s Lil Angels #2. “Some of the kids in Scotland County do not have that consistency.”
Since 2002, the median wage of a Scotland County child care provider holding an associate’s degree has increased from $6.41 to $9.78. McKeithan credits that wage increase for her ability to earn associate’s and bachelor’s degrees in early childhood education. She is currently working on a second master’s degree.
Last year, 52 percent of Scotland County children in child care attended four or five star facilities, and 82 percent of the county’s child care centers are rated three stars or more. Those ratings are based on each center’s program standards and the general level of education among staff members.
“We have more teachers who are more aware of what’s going on, teachers who are more expert in their field,” said Nancy Pegues of Pegues Child Care Center, who in the last year upgraded her center rating from three to five stars. “I have people who are really stable and who see what the future is asking for and how to do what we need to do to get children to the next level.”